Chemicals and Environment

When Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist, shook down Pacific Gas & Electric for $333 million for allegedly poisoning a community with hexavalent chromium and causing cancer and all sorts of other health problems, Julia Roberts portrayed the protagonist in a sensationalized blockbuster movie. It is unlikely, however, that Hollywood will be filming a sequel.

Why? Because not only was Ms. Brockovich wrong, but the State of California has now partially repudiated what she fought for.

Erin Brockovich, Junk Scientist

We've known for a long time that Ms. Brockovich used junk science to score a jackpot settlement. She used a common rhetorical trick, known as the Texas...

This summer Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee have all restricted the use of the herbicide dicamba. Other states, like Iowa and Georgia, are monitoring the situation closely. This on the heels of a massive lawsuit filed by lawyers representing farmers in ten states against makers of the chemical.

How did this herbicide, which was recently billed as part of the solution to a major agricultural issue, become regarded as such a significant problem? (1)

The latest problem surrounds Monsanto’s most expensive genetically engineered crop:...

Sometimes my job is just too easy. This is one of those times.

Even though I continuously call out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for its use of underhanded chemical fear tactics, I am nothing if not polite. Ask my mother. (Uh, never mind. Bad idea.) 

So I need to thank the group for putting its fundraising letter on a batting tee for me. EWG just made my life a little easier by publishing what is essentially the "Cliff Notes" of phony chemical scares. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the letter will probably work, since groups like EWG and NRDC are masters of keeping the loot rolling in by making sure that people are perpetually scared. Nice gig.

Let's take a look at what EWG is putting out there in an attempt to scare people into donating to them,...

When it comes to food, biotech, and health reporting, the New York Times is at least consistent: It is guaranteed to be wrong every single time.

Recently, it ran a very strange article about traces of glyphosate in Ben & Jerry's ice cream. It's strange for two reasons: (1) Ben & Jerry's is vehemently anti-GMO; and (2) It doesn't matter if there are traces of glyphosate in your ice cream.

Ben & Jerry's Gets 'Greenmailed'

Like Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry's has profited handsomely by scaring people about the safety of the food supply. The company is anti-GMO and supports GMO labeling. However, that...

Apricot seeds are all over the internet - marketed as cancer fighters. But the seeds contain a chemical compound that, when ingested in high quantities (and by high we mean several seeds), can cause cyanide poisoning. 

A strange but interesting paper by scientists at The University of Wisconsin, which just appeared in PNAS, examines whether two similar sunscreen chemicals, homosalate and octisalate, could be a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). (See my colleague Julianna LeMieux's companion article "Sunscreen, MS And A Scientific Finding That Is Hard To Believe"  about the biological activity of the chemicals.)

Sunscreen...

It never ceases to amaze me how easily people can be manipulated into worrying about nothing simply because the "nothing" is portrayed as (but really isn't) scary, while at the same time pay no attention to a "something" because it is portrayed as healthy (which is just as wrong). There can hardly be a better example of this logicakl disconnect than the silly July 12th hit piece in the Times (1) about the "horrors" caused by tiny amounts of phthalates in mac and cheese packaging, and yesterday's CNN report about the increase in the number of poison control...

Heavy metals get a bad rap. For the most part, it is deserved because they are usually toxic. Except when they aren't. You have probably consumed a whole lot of at least one or two of them and are just fine. Here's why.

BARIUM

If you mention the element barium to someone, it will elicit one of precisely two responses:

  1. They will think of some god-awful stuff that they once had to swallow before getting stomach x-rays (it is called a contrast agent - makes things that can otherwise not be seen visible).
  2. They will think of the same stuff being administered in a slightly different way. (Hint: it rhymes with enema)

What they will not think of is poison. After all, if you've ever had an upper GI exam, you already know that you...

The New York Times really stepped in some cheesy goo yesterday.

An article on the "dangers" of macaroni and cheese was so insanely wrong that it's hard to believe it was in the paper at all. 

The author was Roni Caryn Rabin who, although not a scientist, has written about health issues for more than 20 years. And she has done a lot of fine work. But this article was so deeply flawed and filled with scare tactics that it comes across as little more than an anti-chemical screed against a group of ubiquitous chemicals called phthalates.

I understand that screeds sell papers, especially when they are written about a group of chemicals with hard to pronounce...

Vani Hari, the infamous "Food Babe" who says that we shouldn't eat anything that we can't pronounce, has a new emulator: Panera Bread.

It pains me to write this article because I love Panera Bread. They know me by my name at the restaurant at which I typically eat. However, their management and marketing team have decided that mocking science is the best way to sell food, and this loyal customer is going to fight back.

A few years ago, Panera launched a "clean food" campaign. That sounds innocent, but the implication is clear: Our food is clean, and their food is dirty. Scaring people about the safety of our food supply is a dishonest tactic...